Washington Foreclosure Laws and Procedures

Learn about Washington's foreclosure laws and how the Washington foreclosure process works.

By , Attorney University of Denver Sturm College of Law
Updated 11/14/2023

Before the foreclosure crisis, federal and state laws regulating mortgage servicers and foreclosure procedures were relatively limited and tended to favor foreclosing lenders. However, many federal and state laws now give protections to borrowers. Servicers generally must provide borrowers with loss mitigation opportunities, account for each foreclosure step, and carefully comply with foreclosure laws.

Also, most people who take out a loan to buy a residential property in Washington sign a promissory note and a deed of trust, which is like a mortgage. These documents usually give homeowners certain contractual rights after a home loan default.

So, don't get caught off guard if you're a homeowner behind in mortgage payments. Learn about foreclosure laws in Washington and how the foreclosure process works, from missing your first payment to a foreclosure sale.

What Are My Rights During Foreclosure in Washington?

In a Washington foreclosure, you'll most likely get the right to:

  • receive a preforeclosure notice giving you the right to meet with the lender or its agent and discuss foreclosure alternatives
  • apply for loss mitigation
  • participate in foreclosure mediation
  • receive certain foreclosure notices
  • get current on the loan and stop the foreclosure sale
  • receive special protections if you're in the military
  • pay off the loan to prevent a sale
  • file for bankruptcy, and
  • get any excess money after a foreclosure sale.

Once you understand the Washington foreclosure process and your rights, you can make the most of your situation and, hopefully, work out a way to save your home or at least get through the process with as little anxiety as possible.

What Is Preforeclosure?

The period after you fall behind in payments, but before a foreclosure officially starts, is generally called the "preforeclosure" stage. (Sometimes, people refer to the period before a foreclosure sale happens as "preforeclosure," too.)

During the preforeclosure period, the servicer can charge you various fees. Also, in most cases, federal law requires the servicer to let you know how to avoid foreclosure, and most mortgage contracts require the servicer to send you a breach letter.

When Can a Washington Foreclosure Start?

Under federal law, the servicer usually can't officially begin a foreclosure until you're more than 120 days past due on payments, subject to a few exceptions. (12 C.F.R. § 1024.41). This 120-day period provides most homeowners ample opportunity to submit a loss mitigation application to the servicer.

What Are the Different Types of Foreclosure in Washington?

If you default on your mortgage payments in Washington, the lender may foreclose using a judicial or nonjudicial method.

How Judicial Foreclosures Work

A judicial foreclosure begins when the lender files a lawsuit asking a court for an order allowing a foreclosure sale. If you don't respond with a written answer, the lender will automatically win the case.

But if you choose to defend the foreclosure lawsuit, the court will review the evidence and determine the winner. If the lender wins, the judge will enter a judgment and order your home sold at auction.

How Nonjudicial Foreclosures Work

If the lender chooses a nonjudicial foreclosure, it must complete the out-of-court procedures described in the state statutes. After completing the required steps, the lender can sell the home at a foreclosure sale.

Most lenders in Washington opt to use the nonjudicial process because it's quicker and cheaper than litigating the matter in court.

Which Is the Most Common Foreclosure Process in Washington?

Again, most residential foreclosures in Washington are nonjudicial. Here's how the process works.

Preforeclosure Requirements Under Washington Law

In most cases, the foreclosing lender has to contact you (the borrower) or meet the requirements for attempting to contact you, at least 30 days before issuing a notice of default (see below). This requirement applies to residential properties of up to four units. (Wash. Rev. Code § 61.24.031).

You'll get a notice that informs you of your right to meet and confer with the servicer of your loan, which means you can ask for an in-person meeting to discuss loss mitigation options. If you respond within 30 days, the lender can't issue a notice of default until 90 days after sending the letter. But if you don't ask for a meeting, the lender can proceed with the foreclosure 30 days after satisfying certain requirements, like trying to contact you by phone. (Wash. Rev. Code § 61.24.031).

What Is the Notice of Foreclosure in Washington State?

If you don't respond to the letter or work out a way to avoid foreclosure, a notice of default is served on you 30 days before a notice of sale is recorded or served. The notice of default must be served by both first-class mail and by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, and by either posting the notice on the premises in a prominent place or by personal service. (Wash. Rev. Code § 61.24.030).

Foreclosure Mediation

Once the notice of default has been issued, the homeowner becomes eligible for mediation. Homeowners aren't able to opt-in to the mediation program without a referral. To request mediation, you must contact a housing counselor or attorney who will provide a referral to the program, if appropriate for the situation.

Mediation must be requested between the time the notice of default is issued and no later than 90 calendar days before the date of sale listed in the notice of trustee sale. If an amended notice of trustee sale is recorded providing a 45-day notice of the sale, mediation must be requested no later than 25 calendar days before the date of sale listed in the amended notice of trustee sale. (Wash. Rev. Code § 61.24.030, § 61.24.163).

If you don't elect mediation within this time frame, you and the lender may (but aren't obligated to) agree in writing to enter the mediation program. If the homeowner is referred to mediation before the notice of sale is recorded (see below), the notice can't be recorded until mediation is complete. (Wash. Rev. Code § 61.24.163).

If the lender doesn't mediate in good faith, you might be able to stop the foreclosure sale in court. (Wash. Rev. Code § 61.24.163).

Notice of Sale

The trustee issues a notice of sale, records it, mails you a copy, and posts it on the property (or serves the home's occupant a copy) at least 90 days, or 120 days (depending on the situation), before the sale date. The notice of sale must also be published in a newspaper. (Wash. Rev. Code §§ 61.24.040, 61.24.030).

How Do Foreclosure Sales Work in Washington?

Under state law, the lender can't hold the sale less than 190 days after the date of default. (Wash. Rev. Code § 61.24.040).

At the sale, the lender usually makes a credit bid. The lender can bid up to the total amount owed, including fees and costs, or it may bid less. In some states, when the lender is the high bidder at the sale but bids less than the total debt, it can get a deficiency judgment against the borrower. In Washington, deficiency judgments usually aren't allowed.

If the lender is the highest bidder, the property becomes "Real Estate Owned" (REO). But if a bidder, say a third party, is the highest bidder and offers more than you owe, and the sale results in excess proceeds—that is, money over and above what's needed to pay off all the liens on your property—you're entitled to that surplus money.

How Long Do You Have to Move Out After Foreclosure in Washington?

The purchaser at the sale is entitled to possession of the property on the 20th day after the sale. (Wash. Rev. Code § 61.24.060).

How Do I Stop a Foreclosure in Washington?

A few potential ways to stop a foreclosure and keep your home include reinstating the loan, redeeming the property before the sale, or filing for bankruptcy. Working out a loss mitigation option, like a loan modification, will also stop a foreclosure.

Or you might be able to work out a short sale or deed in lieu of foreclosure and avoid foreclosure. (But you'll have to give up your home with a short sale or deed in lieu of foreclosure transaction.)

Reinstating the Loan

Washington law provides you with the right to reinstate your loan at any time prior to the 11th day before the sale. (Wash. Rev. Code §§ 61.24.040, 61.24.090).

Does Washington Law Provide Redemption Rights?

One way to stop a foreclosure is by "redeeming" the property. To redeem, you have to pay off the full amount of the loan before the foreclosure sale.

Some states also provide foreclosed borrowers a redemption period after the foreclosure sale, during which they can buy back the home. Washington law, however, doesn't provide a post-sale redemption period after a nonjudicial foreclosure. (Wash. Rev. Code § 61.24.050).

Filing for Bankruptcy

If you're facing a foreclosure, filing for bankruptcy might help. In fact, if a foreclosure sale is scheduled to occur in the next day or so, the best way to stop the sale immediately is by filing for bankruptcy.

Once you file for bankruptcy, something called an "automatic stay" goes into effect. The stay functions as an injunction, which prohibits the lender from foreclosing on your home or otherwise trying to collect its debt, at least temporarily.

In many cases, filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy can delay the foreclosure by a matter of months. Or, if you want to save your home, filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy might be the answer. To find out about the options available to you, speak with a local bankruptcy attorney.

Foreclosure Protections and Military Servicemembers

The federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act provides legal protections to military personnel facing foreclosure.

Washington's state laws protecting military servicemembers from foreclosure are similar to the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. Also, Washington law says that a violation of the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act violates state law. The Washington laws also apply to a member of the National Guard or member of a military reserve component who is a resident of Washington state or stationed there. (Wash. Rev. Code §§ 38.42.010 to 38.42.904).

Are Deficiency Judgments Allowed in Washington?

In a foreclosure, the borrower's total mortgage debt sometimes exceeds the foreclosure sale price. The difference between the total debt and the sale price is called a "deficiency." For example, say the total debt owed is $600,000, but the home sells for $550,000 at the foreclosure sale. The deficiency is $50,000.

In some states, the lender can seek a personal judgment against the debtor to recover the deficiency. Generally, once the lender gets a deficiency judgment, the lender may collect this amount (in our example, $50,000) from the borrower.

Washington law doesn't allow deficiency judgments after nonjudicial foreclosures. (Wash. Rev. Code § 61.24.100). But if the bank forecloses judicially, a deficiency judgment is allowed.

More Foreclosure Information

For more information on federal mortgage servicing laws, as well as foreclosure relief options, go to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) website.

Getting Help

If you have questions about Washington's foreclosure process or want to learn about potential defenses to a foreclosure and possibly fight the foreclosure in court, consider talking to a foreclosure attorney.

It's also a good idea to talk to a HUD-approved housing counselor if you want to learn about different loss mitigation options.

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